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Evaluating Otto Porter's season and if his playoff performance is sustainable

With Paul Pierce gone, is this the year that Otto Porter takes the next step in becoming the Wizards' small forward of the future?

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Paul Pierce is gone. Jared Dudley is injured. Otto Porter, all eyes are on you.

The last time the Wizards faithful saw Porter, he was knocking down timely threes, chirping at the opposition, and oozing with confidence through the Wizards' 2015 playoff run. Was Otto turning the corner to become the small forward of the future like we all envisioned or was this just a player getting hot at the right time?

Porter appeared in twice as many regular season games this year as opposed to last (74 vs. 37) averaging six points and three rebounds. For the vast majority of the season, he served as the backup and mentee to Paul Pierce with most of his minutes coming with the second unit.

The only thing consistent about Porter's regular season was that it was inconsistent. Inconsistent minutes, inconsistent scoring, and inconsistent confidence plagued Porter for a majority of the season. This peaked right after the New Year as Martell Webster returned from injury and stole some of Porter's minutes in the rotation. Randy Wittman would insert Webster instead of Porter in hopes of getting him going after his back surgery but as we all know, that never happened.

Throughout the season, Porter would show flashes of his potential whether it was knocking down deep jumpers, slashing to the hole, or diving on the floor for the ball. Just like Gortat, Porter got hot in April where he averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in the lead up to the playoffs. Paul Pierce sat out a majority of the games towards the end of the season allowing Porter to start in his place. The freedom to go out and play and not have to look over his shoulder did wonders for Porter's confidence.

And then everything erupted in the first series of the playoffs against the Raptors.

Porter came out like a man on a mission in the Toronto series averaging 9.5 points and 7.3 rebounds off the bench. He shot 55 percent from the floor in the series including 50 percent from three-point range. Otto was feeling so good about himself that he started chirping at DeMar DeRozan and other Raptors players; something we've never seen from Porter.

This confidence carried over into the second round of the playoffs where he notched his first career playoff double-double in the first game of the Atlanta series. He backed that up with a very impressive Game 2 performance where he logged 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals. He was active on the offensive glass, had a confident shooting stroke, and was the only player who could somewhat slow down DeMarre Carroll.

So what should the Wizards' faithful expect from Porter next year? Playoff Otto or Regular Season Otto?

Well, first we need to understand what allowed him to score more effectively in the playoffs than the regular season. Despite what you may think, his shot efficiency didn't change all that much from the regular season to the playoffs:

Porter efficiency 2

As you can see, Porter saw some minor increases in his shooting on outside shots, but also saw a dip in his interior scoring, in part because there are simply fewer transition opportunities in the playoffs to get those easy buckets near the rim.

The big difference was how his shot frequency changed:

Porter Shot Distribution 2

By playing alongside Wall, Beal, Pierce and Gortat more often in the playoffs, Porter didn't have to settle for midrange shots like he did in the regular season, playing with Andre Miller, Rasual Butler, Kris Humphries, Kevin Seraphin, etc. So even though is inside scoring numbers dipped, he was still able to score more effectively because he was swapping out those midrange pullups where he shot under 40 percent for inside shots where he averaged over 50 percent.

Because he won't be asked to shoulder a bigger load offensively next season, Porter can certainly sustain those types of numbers, both in terms of efficiency and frequency. The thing is, Porter can't create all those opportunities by himself. He'll need to continue to get support from the rest of the Wizards' starting lineup in order to continue to create open catch and shoot opportunities, and driving lanes to allow him to get to the rim without worrying about someone trying to swipe the ball.

That said, I believe that we will see something closer to Playoff Otto than Regular Season Otto this season. Keep in mind, he has three things working in his favor for the 2015-16 season:

  1. As we mentioned earlier, he won't have to worry about looking over his shoulder and worrying if Randy Wittman will yank his minutes around.
  2. With a defined role, Porter will be able to play with more confidence, knowing a mistake won't send him to the bench for a fortnight. Even when he makes mistakes next season, he's proved the team is better with him on the floor.
  3. Even though he's taking on more minutes, Porter still won't be asked to bite off more than he can chew on the offensive end. He won't be asked to fill Paul Pierce's shoes. Instead, the Wizards will recast the small forward position to make it work more like it did when Trevor Ariza was around. That role should allow Porter keep his offensive efficiency high by minimizing his exposure to the parts of his game where he struggles and allowing him to save more energy for the defensive end.

As stated, the key here is consistency. As long as Porter can channel his playoff intensity on a nightly basis, that will prove that he can take the next step in becoming the small forward of this team for years to come.